Ascheri 2004 Langhe Montalupa Viognier (Piedmont) – Already fraying at the edges a bit. It’s varietally true, in that there’s sticky-floral apricot with hints of dry honey, but with more clay-like minerality showing through than this heady, often lurid grape will usually allow. But it’s a bit gauzy, and you’ll want to drink it a few months ago. (12/08)
Villard 2004 Condrieu Le Grand Vallon (Rhône) – Lush honeysuckle, peach blossom, plus pear and peach syrups. Long. Thick and slightly lurid, with a dry bite on the midpalate. There’s fair acidity, which is about all one can expect from most Condrieu these days. It gets better with air. Not up to Christophe Pichon’s standards, but pretty tasty. (4/06)
Calera 2006 “Dessert” Viognier (Mt. Harlan) – Sweet apricot and a lilt of tulips, clean and well-made, perhaps even refreshing, but in the end it says nothing of particular interest. (4/08)
Copain 2005 Viognier “L’ete” (Mendocino County) – This is served to me blind, and after a brief flirtation with something white and Rhônish, I veer off in a completely wrong direction. But even if I’d stuck to my guns, I never would have guessed viognier, because there’s not much of it here. Dried flowers, perhaps, but none of the lurid, oily, aromatic explosion for which the grape is known. It’s hot and flabby, sure, and that is at least authentic, but there’s some acidity lingering about, and that can’t possibly be viognier, can it? Strange wine. Needs food. I can’t quite commit to liking it, but it’s at least interesting. (3/08)
Casa de la Ermita 2006 Jumilla Viognier (Levant) – 100% viognier. God, what a relief it is to taste a white after all these brutal reds. As such, I might be slightly more favorably-inclined towards this wine than it deserves. Anyway, there’s a big, almost lurid quality to the wine, but it nicely dances away from the edge of soup, showing honeysuckle and fruit salad with a dry minerality at its core. Good acidity persists a little too long, watering down the limey finish, which tightens up more than I’d like. Still, I have to admit that given a choice between this and a goopy, oaky, overwrought Condrieu (like Cuilleron), I’d take this in a heartbeat. (10/07)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge 2003 Viognier (Shenandoah Valley) – There’s a metallic edge here, along with more typical peach skin and apricot. Surprisingly, the acid is prominent…not something one always finds in viognier, especially from the New World. The finish is shy, showing only a little thyme honey. It all seems a little less than it should be, so I try moving the wine to a bigger-bowled glass. This does make a difference, bringing out more of the floral aspects and seemingly expanding the wine’s overall profile. (5/07)
Columbia Winery 2006 Viognier (Yakima Valley) – Light aromatics at first, followed by a thoroughly hollow midpalate. The finish is classic and varietally true to its peach flower/honeysuckle destiny, but there’s just not much else to enjoy here. (9/07)
Breaux 2005 Viognier (Virginia) – Somewhat confused, with faint suggestions of flowers hollowed out by a corrugated metal tube, leaving the center void and the edges uncertain. It’s not overworked, which is a blessing, but it doesn’t have much of what one drinks viognier for either. (6/07)
(The original version, with more photos, is here.)
30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California
A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.
120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.
Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.
Redwood City, California
Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.
Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.
Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.
Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.
Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.
Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.
Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.
Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.
Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.
Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.
(The original version is here.)
To save time and speed up posting – always a good thing with me – this “travelogue” is presented in short form, like the recurring California reports. In any case, there’s a lot of wine to notate when this gets around to Alsace, so I doubt people will miss the length…or, for that matter, the narrative.
25 March 2006 – Thionville, France
Air France – Back on the road again, exactly 364 days after returning from our truly epic 2005 New Zealand journey. Has it really been that long? I’m strangely unexcited and unprepared, but manage to get myself to the airport nonetheless. The plane is reasonably comfortable (maybe a slight notch down from, say, British Airways), and the food is quite decent for steerage: salmon couscous salad, tortellini, braised beef, chocolate pastry…though for breakfast, a lame croissant. They’re stingy with the wine – an apéritif portion is offered, but no refill – though it hardly matters all that much, given the low quality on offer.
Castel 2004 Vin de Pays d’Oc “Cuvée Réservée” Chardonnay/Viognier (Languedoc) – Juicy melon and tropical fruit. Thick but not unpleasant; “inoffensive” is the perfect descriptor. There’s absolutely no finish, though. My mineral water has more finish than this wine. Where’d it go?
Even though we arrive at the “nice” terminal at CDG/Roissy, it’s still a pit…this is absolutely one of the worst airports anywhere in the developed world. I nearly fall asleep behind the wheel of our rental on the long, boring autoroute to Thionville, but manage to get us there alive.
Bruno & Patricia Fratini’s house – Patricia’s an old friend from way back, Bruno’s her guy. They’re newly (re-)married after a long partnership, and seem blissfully happy. Better yet, Patricia’s an excellent cook, and Bruno – while not reaching my level of obsession (who could?) – enjoys and collects a little bit of wine. We’re headed for a nap, but Patricia won’t hear of it without stuffing us with an (excellent) Reblochon tartiflette, salad, fruit and some wine.
Jean Dupont 1998 Auxey-Duresses (Burgundy) – Fully à point with bricking well into the core, showing autumnal forest floor and a little baked cherry pie spice. Light-bodied. This wine reminds me of a sweet old grandmother pottering around her tiny kitchen, trying to fix her unexpected guests a little snack.
Post-nap and post-shower, old friends start showing up and soon we’ve got a full house. Mere hours after our last meal, it’s: salmon Wellington, asparagus with an excellent béchamel, homemade gemelli with a long-cooked meat ragù, salad, cheese, more cheese, fruit, and cake made by someone’s pastry chef brother. It’s a hell of a lot of food, but it is France, and somehow it all seems to get eaten.
Ogereau 2002 Coteaux du Layon St-Lambert (Loire) – Honeyed wax, chalk and honeysuckle; pure and beautiful, though not showing much in the way of complexity. It might come, however, as this is still very young.
Jean Dupont 1998 Meursault (Burgundy) – Raw peanut oil, light melon rind and a faintly spicy note, with elements of nutty bitterness marking the finish. Struggling, but failing, to rise above disappointment.
Carbonnieux 2003 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux) – Full-fruited in a Napa vein (blackberry and black cherry, ripe and fat), with gorgeously textured tannin, graphite, very little acidity and a smooth finish. It’s a very appealing wine, at a purely hedonistic level. I don’t know how anyone could identify it as Bordeaux, but maybe this producer doesn’t care about that anymore.
Gérard Roy Cognac Fine Champagne XO (Southwest France) – Sweet and almost fruity, showing dried Rainier cherries and hazelnuts. The aromatics are just beautiful, though the palate is a bit strident.
Postprandial entertainment is a little on the absurd side, with live shows from Francis Cabrel, Led Zeppelin, Toto, Genesis and the Scorpions on a giant projection screen, and everybody (phonetically) singing along to power ballad after power ballad. Are we actually in France? It would appear so.